Processors struggle with meat definitions

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The definition of meat derived from animals or plants is becoming a hot potato.

Groups in the United States want clarification on the definition and regulation of plant-based products and meat grown from an animal cell culture rather than livestock.

No products are yet on the market but a chicken type product could be released later this year.

“We care because it gives us guidance about one of the fundamental issues. Who is going to have jurisdiction over these products if and when they start entering commerce?” said Mark Dopp of the processors’ organization, North American Meat Institute.

Tofu burgers have been on the market for 20 years and are labelled as such, but groups like the meat institute want to know how these products might be regulated and identified for consumers.

Likely the label “clean meat” will not be permitted because it calls into question the integrity of other products.

“The technologies that yield these sort of plant-based products are getting better and better and now we see them being offered in restaurants and in the retail meat case,” he said at the recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Phoenix.

The NCBA passed a resolution seeking protection for consumers and the beef industry from “fake meat and misleading labels.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association also submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service asking for clarification about these products so consumers know the difference between beef derived from cattle and products created in a laboratory.

No one is sure who should oversee these products, said Dopp.

“It is highly unlikely if the animal-based proteins end up being regulated by (the Food and Drug Administration). Somebody has to change the definition of meat or those products will not be permitted to be called meat,” he said.

As a general rule, the federal meat inspection act gives primary jurisdiction to the USDA.

The act defines meat as any part of the muscle of any cattle, sheep, swine, goat, which is skeletal or which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus with or without fat and portions of bone.

“I have serious questions whether these lab-based products will satisfy this definition based on the source of the cells and how they are raised,” Dopp said.

The definition of a meat food product says it has more than one ingredient and one of the ingredients is meat. For example, a pepperoni pizza or a marinated pork loin is a meat food product.

“There is a fairly compelling argument to be made that the lab-cultured product, those animal-based protein products are within one of these definitions,” he said.

Dopp’s organization also wants assurances these products are manufactured under the same guidelines as other food products with standard operating procedures and a hazard analysis critical control point plan.

He also questioned what might happen with byproducts used to make pet food or leather.

“If this becomes viable on a commercial context, what are the ramifications for other industries using byproducts like leather, pharmaceuticals or pet food. It could have a negative impact,” he said.

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